There’s that whole thing Billy Beane is credited with issuing from his baseball pulpit, about spending the first third of the season evaluating your team and figuring out what you are and where you could be headed, the middle third addressing needs on the trade market, and the final third flooring it.
The regular season, roughly a six-month process, has ballpark mileposts at the end of May and the end of July, marking the points at which one of those thirds symbolically transitions to the next. The fact that July 31st is procedurally fixed as a point after which impact trades are much more difficult to pull off makes the Beane maxim cleaner.
But let’s talk for a second about May 31st.
On that date, Texas rested, having completed a homestand against Toronto and Seattle and heading to Anaheim, Oakland, and San Francisco for a 10-game road trip. The Rangers were 31-20, boasting the American League’s best record and baseball’s second best, the best run differential in baseball by a lot, and a 5.5-game lead in its division, tied for the biggest edge in the big leagues.
On May 31, Josh Hamilton was hitting .368/.420/.764. His slug led all of baseball by more than 100 points, his OPS by nearly 100. He led baseball in home runs, extra-base hits, isolated power, RBI, go-ahead RBI, intentional walks, and story lines.
Same date: Albert Pujols was hitting .243/.290/.408.
Since that date, Hamilton is hitting .201/.290/.396. Seven players in baseball have a lower batting average over that time. Four, if you don’t count the Mariners.
Since that date, Pujols is hitting .327/.411/.605. His 1.016 OPS isn’t the best in the AL in that span – Mike Trout’s 1.101 is.
Hamilton’s .686 isn’t the worst Texas OPS since May 31. That belongs to Michael Young (.610).
Again, on May 31, the Rangers were 5.5 games ahead of the Angels.
Since then, with Hamilton and Young doing what they’re doing and Pujols and Trout and Mark Trumbo putting up video game numbers?
The Rangers have gone 25-18. The Angels have gone 26-18.
Texas is 5.0 games ahead of Los Angeles.
Friday and Sunday sucked. Saturday sucked for the Angels. None of the games were particularly close; the only game that was on the line late was last night’s, and that was only after Ernesto Frieri made a non-save opportunity interesting in the ninth, before finishing things off with seven straight mid-90s fastballs to Hamilton, three of which he swung through.
But a 4-4 West Coast road trip and a 1-2 series in Anaheim is hardly a free fall, and it leaves me with the feeling I had before it, and that I’ve had for a while now:
I’m not worried at all about the final third of the regular season.
But I’m worried about October.
And that’s different from any feeling I’ve ever had about this team, because this year – no matter what you think about the window, which is not anywhere near closing but is probably going to look a lot different in 2013 – it’s unmistakably about winning a World Series.
Not getting there.
Not getting back there.
A big 10 at home gets underway tonight, as a skidding Boston visits a Rangers club having trouble finding any level of consistency on offense and now having to start reinforcements on the mound in Games One and Two. The White Sox, in a spirited fight in their division, arrive next, and then it’s the Angels for four, starting on July 30th, the day before the deadline by which Jon Daniels and Jerry Dipoto must make their biggest impact moves of the season, or not.
Jim Bowden (ESPN/XM) may be overstating things in a Jim Bowden way when he tweets: “Whoever wins the Rangers-Angels series might not be as important as which team wins the trade deadline for starting pitching.” But, at least as far as October is concerned, he probably isn’t.
Which reminds me to thank Tanner Scheppers, Cody Buckel, Luke Jackson, Engel Beltre, Luis Sardinas, Christian Villanueva, C.J. Edwards, Chris McGuiness, Jared Hoying, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Monegro, Jimmy Reyes, Abel De Los Santos, and perhaps even Joey Butler for their very good timing, something which in a different context I sure would like to see Josh Hamilton get some recognizable semblance of back, because while Texas may not need him to be MVP-level Josh Hamilton over the final third of the season, it’s going to be problematic if he’s anywhere near as unproductive as this in October.